The Huntsman’s Tale, I got to book three now. I don’t actually know what I expect from this third instalment of the Oxford Murder Mystery series. Learning from the previous one, there weren’t bodies laying around Oxford or mysteries to be solved. It was only the case of Emma running away from Godstow Abbey to get away from her stepfather. But as I said, the ending didn’t seem very conclusive. I think it’s temporary, and therefore, anything else can happen, especially if Sir Anthony is destined to die sometimes in this book or the following ones.
Hunts and Harvest
I think this book is more of a low-down period of Nicholas’ adventure in Oxford. The book starts with a messenger who came from his mother’s farm, asking him to visit and help with the harvest. Nicholas came up with a plan to bring some of his friends from Oxford. He thought they, too, needed some time away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
The first chapters of The Huntsman’s Tale were spent on the journey from Oxford to Leighton-under-Wychwood, where the Elyot’s farm is located. Ann Swinfen wrote in detail about works needing to be done during harvest time in the English countryside at that time. Well, maybe the activities were similar to today’s harvest time. But I can’t say much because I haven’t had the opportunity to spend time in the English countryside.
Her historical note in The Huntsman’s Tale focused heavily on the agricultural activities of rural England in Medieval times and hunting. The period she chose was indeed tumultuous since the Pestilence ended. I remember there was a Peasant Revolt in 1381—was it?—surrounding the issues of wages of labourers. I can’t entirely recall; did the Revolt happen because of the demand for rising wages after Black Death or the Hundred Years War. Either one of those—or both.
A small fun fact: I will assume Leighton-under-Wychwood is a made-up place because I couldn’t find anything relating to the place and de Vere family through Googling. Okay, wait… perhaps anything that is un-Google-able isn’t always fictional. I did found Shipton-under-Wychwood in West Oxfordshire with a farmhouse owned by the de Langley family. Not that it’s crucial or disturb the story flow, but it’s a fun note to add.
- Nicholas Elyot – the patriarch of the family, a bookseller, a Master of Arts from Oxford.
- Margaret Makepeace (neé Elyot) – Nicholas’ sister.
- Alysoun Elyot – Nicholas daughter
- Rafe Elyot – Alysoun’s younger brother
- Jordan Brynkilsworth – Nicholas’ best friend, Warden of Hart Hall, Oxford University
- Philip Olney – the guy from Merton College
- Beatrice Metford – Philip’s commonlaw wife
- Stephen Metford – Philip & Beatrice’s son
- Maud Farringdon – mother of the late William Farringdon
- Juliana Farringdon – younger sister of Farringdon
- Emma Thorgold – Maud’s niece, William & Juliana’s cousin
- Edmond Elyot – Nicholas’ cousin
- Bridget Elyot – Nicholas’ mum
- Susanna Elyot – Edmond’s wife
The Huntsman’s Problem
The problem in The Huntsman’s Tale is named Mordon. He’s a London spice merchant who bought the Wychwood manor and appears to be a massive jackass to everyone in the demesne. One of Nicholas’ childhood friends, Alan Wodville, was surprisingly dismissed from his post as a huntsman by Master Mordon. Other community members had whispered about being forced to labour, threatened with villeinage even though they’re land-owning free men, several disputes about rents, and accusations of violation upon several females. How can someone be a jackass? There must be a reason or a backstory as it was with all of us.
On the other hand, Emma sent what I thought of as a resume letter through a messenger asking if Nicholas will think about taking her as a scrivener. Before you go 21st-century politically correct here, I need to remind you that in this context and period, the occupation of a scrivener is restricted only to men or men of the cloth. But you must also remember that extraordinary women from this period who could break the barriers exist. They raised themselves to their chosen occupations which were thought to be exclusively for men.
I want to be honest. I had a hard time reading the first four chapters of The Huntsman’s Tale. I find it rather dull and a little bit too long for a background setting of a case. I half-heartedly dragged myself to keep going in hopes that there will be some other-worldly and twisted fate happening to someone in the middle of the story. Still, it didn’t happen… It took too long in ways of hunting rituals that do not interest me. But then something happens. Master Mordon was shot by an arrow during the hunt, and my eyes lit up.
Suspects? Alan Wodville, the hereditary huntsman that got into trouble with Master Mordon before the Friday hunt started. Did he do it, though? I don’t think so. I have a suspect that does not align with any of Nicholas’ suspects. I was simply following the clues written: bow, rode a horse, higher angle of shooting. Hmm… I would like to see my analysis is correct on this one. If so, I knew who did it when I got to Chapter 7. It’s a little bit too clear for me to see who shot Master Mordon.
The guest star in The Huntsman’s Tale was Sir Henry Talbot, who owns a neighbouring manor not far from Burford. He befriended the Elyot family since way back when and was invited as well to the Friday hunt. I like this man and how he shifted his personal schedules to help solve the mystery in Leighton-under-Wychwood.
Another guest star was Alice Walsea, a King’s spy. I likened her to a character such as Black Widow because she sounded so badass. She wasn’t the key figure who has all the answers to The Huntsman’s Tale mystery, but she played quite a significant role leading to a clue that confirmed my suspicions. Thanks, Alice! Hope to see you again in the other books.
I was wrong by saying that this book was meant as a low-down period for Nicholas and his family. I was preparing for a discontented feeling by mid-book. But the pace suddenly picked up right after they found Master Mordon dead. That was a nice touch, though. Just right at the point where I thought this story couldn’t be more boring.
The Fate of the Huntsman
I was wrong by saying that this book was meant as a low-down period for Nicholas and his family. The pace suddenly picked up right after they found Master Mordon dead. With such a slow start, The Huntsman’s Tale managed to steal my heart at the end. I honestly did not expect what happened during the Friday hunt. I was preparing for a discontented feeling by mid-book. That was a nice touch, though. Just right at the point where I thought this story couldn’t be more boring.
But hang on a minute! Not only did I get one dead body, but I got a total of three dead bodies in The Huntsman’s Tale. Since reading (and watching) crime stories are my favourite pastime, I can easily guess that the three deaths were related to multiple culprits. But I have to be honest, it’s a little bit tricky deciding who actually pulled the bow that killed Master Mordon. Though I think my suspicion was confirmed, I have to be satisfied with the ending.
How did the story end? Well, I can’t tell you that. What I can say is that Alan Wodville got the happy ending. He was cleared of all charges although spent a few nights at that cellar. Did I get a happy ending as a reader? No, I didn’t. But I feel content with how it was written because stories in books can be as crappy as real life.
What’s the lesson of The Huntsman’s Tale? For me, The Huntsman’s Tale is about friendship, loyalty, and devotion; to a significant other, to the family, and to the community. All three things are rare in this day and age, which is why I went back feeling the warmth of Ann Swinfen’s writing style. She painted me a picture of how friendships could be, of how loyalty and devotion can make you do things you wouldn’t imagine. I think I began to reflect a little bit too personally on this series, and I don’t know if it’s a good thing.
Side note: I am, to be honest, starting to get impatient reading what’s going on between Nicholas and Emma. It’s too obvious what they’re destined to be, and if Ann Swinfen decided to smash all hopes into pieces, I’d probably be heartbroken. No spoilers, please. I bet (or I hope) the answer can be found in one of the three following books.
Words I Learnt
- haysel: the haying season
- multure: a toll of grain or flour due to a miller in return for grinding grain.
- boon days: certain days in the year on which tenants in copyhold were obliged to perform corporal services for the lord. (The Law Dictionary)
- gleaning: gather (leftover grain or other produce) after a harvest.
- venery: this means either sexual indulgence or hunting. Both were archaic terms. So…? Let’s go with hunting, since it’s the context of the story.
- a craftsman who trims and shoes horses’ hooves.
- gesticulating: using gestures
- cynosure: a person or thing that is the center of attention or admiration.
- mettlesome: full of spirit and courage
- venal: showing or motivated by susceptibility to bribery
- florid: having a red or flushed complexion; elaborately or excessively intricate or complicated
- ignominiously: deserving or causing public disgrace or shame